September 27, 2015

WANDERING THOUGHTS.Young Wentworth, after graduating, took a regular course of medicine in Boston, with an average standing. By his uncle’s liberality …

Oh, heck—just read the whole (tedious) thing at merrycoz:  Norwood (with reviews you probably wouldn’t want to get).


Norwood, chapter 5

July 31, 2015

A heroine is born, and one of Beecher’s mouthpieces talks and talks.


The night on which Rose Wentworth was born was furnished out with all suitable auguries. It was more nearly morning than night. That was well, to be born as the day was breaking and morning was fresh all on the earth. The dew lay pure on all the ground, and the birds were singing.

The time was late in April, and the resurrection of the vegetable world was going on. If one feels the influence of the seasons upon his natal hour, it was fit that Dr. Wentworth’s first-born should come, not with the wan and waning months of autumn, but in the months of newness, when all things feel the touch of recreative power. The day before had been soft and showery. Southern winds filled the air with moisture and that fragrant smell of soil and the slight balsamic odor of opening buds, which to some sensitive persons is strangely exhilarating, and which stirs the mind with subtle suggestion, and, after the long imprisonment of winter, sets the tremulous imagination into wild delight.

In the afternoon there had been several peals of thunder, which at that early season awakened surprise in all, but which the Doctor accepted as a part of a happy conjunction of natural phenomena significant of his child’s life and fate.

Mother Taft had been waiting at the house for several days. She seemed gently stirred at the sound of thunder. But even thunder could not move her serene nature to more than quiet wonder. Half the children in the village called her Auntie, and grew up with the impression that she was blood kin to them. Her face was young for one of fifty years, white and smooth. Her blue eye never flashed, or glowed, or burned, or pierced, or did any of those violent things to which eyes are addicted. Sad eyes; pitying eyes! For years she had stood a door-keeper for this sad world, and all that came in had begun their life with cries and wails, as if to prophesy their future. Had pity for those born into sorrow and crying at last stamped itself in her very features?

When the thunder broke forth suddenly and rolled away in the distance with softened cadence, Mother Taft moved to the front door. Her walking was of that quiet kind that seems to have no more footsteps in it than has the shadow of a cloud that is gliding along the ground. Dr. Wentworth was coming through the door-yard, noting on every hand the condition of vegetation. The willows had thrown off their silly catkins, and were in leaf; the lilac buds were swollen large; the elm was covered with chocolate-colored blossoms; the pyrus japonica was reddening its clusters of crimson buds; the green-wooded forsythia was pushing yellow flowers; and the soft maple drew bees to its crimson tassels. In the border, peonies were breaking ground; snow-drops and crocuses were in bloom, as also hepaticas. The grass was becoming vividly green, and honeysuckles—especially over the trellis at the front door—were pushing new leaves. Yes, nature was fairly at work! The sap flowed again. Life was ocne more organizing myriads of curious textures and forms with silent forces infinite and almost omnipotent.

The Doctor searched not as one who would take, but only find. When the thunder sounded he bared his head as if he heard some message. His eye brightened with satisfaction, and, as Mother Taft opened the door, he said, softly but solemnly:

“She will hear God’s voice. Flowers live. All things are coming forth. Her time is come. But she must have her crown.”

Calling Pete, a great, black, clumsy-moving fellow, the Doctor said:

“Pete, I want some trailing arbutus; where does it blossom earliest?”

“What?” said Pete, looking perplexed.

“Where can you get the earliest Mayflower?”

“May-flowers—why, on Howlet’s Hill, of course,” said Pete, as if surprised that the Doctor did not know so plain a fact as that.

“Well, Pete, I haven’t been here as long as you have, and don’t know the ins and outs of the fields yet. But bring up the horses and drive me there. Don’t let grass grow under your feet.”

Passing through a pine wood, where no flowers were yet growing, and ascending the hill, through an open wood where hemlock and deciduous trees were mixed, they came near the top to a half cleared space, to the eye brown and barren, except here and there clumps of evergreen kalmias. Pete’s eye was seldom at fault.

“There’s some, Doctor, by that stump; and there’s some beyond, ever so much.” Clearing away the leaves he revealed the sweetest flower that opens to the northern sky. It is content, though lying upon the very ground. It braves the coldest winters. All the summers can not elaborate a perfume so sweet as that which seems to have been born of the very winter. It is like the breath of love. The pure white and pink blossoms, in sweet clusters, lie hidden under leaves, or grass, and often under untimely snows. Blessings on thee! Thou art the fairest, most modest and sweetest-breathed of all our flowers!

Enough for a wreath were soon gathered, and brought home—the fittest emblem wherewith to greet the little damsel.

Near twilight of the next morning, while the air was soft and balmy, and roots were swelling, and buds opening, and blossoms coming forth, and birds singing love-songs in all the trees, was born ROSE WENTWORTH.

Dr. Reuben Wentworth was born in the old town of Norwich, Connecticut, in one of the old pre-revolutionary houses, under the shade of old elms. What with the early colonial history, and the always romantic legends of the Indians, he found the whole region about his birthplace rich in historic incident.

His family originally came from the eastern part of Massachusetts, and to this circumstance, probably, it was owing, that he studied at Harvard University. A respectable student in the regular course, he had the reputation of being very busy with studies outside of the course. He early manifested a strong taste for Natural Science, but was never satisfied with that part which the books contain, but, with an instinct as strong as that which leads an infant to its mother’s breast for food, he turned from the dry descriptions and classifications to the living things themselves. At first, it was almost wholly an instinct, the sensibility of exquisite taste. But to this was added, by gradual unfolding, a rational element, and then a moral sympathy, until he found himself united to the organized system of nature with every part of his being.

This task did not detach him from the love of books, nor of society, nor of art and literature. He had warm sympathy for every thing human, and for all the proper works of man—but under and behind it, was a strong and silent sympathy and alliance with Nature; silent:—for, during all his education, Reuben Wentworth had a vague impression that his tastes, if fully disclosed, would render him liable to the charge of being a dreamer, and a poetical idealist.

The uncle, whose purse had carried him through college, was an old bachelor of fifty years—spry, lean, and chipper—Ebenezer by name. But people are usually overclothed with names; and as men in summer or at work, throw off their superfluous raiment till their arms are bare, so most folks dispense with a portion of their names; and Ebenezer Wentworth passed everywhere as Uncle Eb. He wrote his name Eb. Wentworth—tying them together with a long flourish, as if afraid they would get separated. He used to laugh at people’s names.

“Folks use their children as if they were garret pegs, to hang old clothes on—first a jacket, then a coat, and then another jacket. You have to take them all down to find either one. Our children go trudging all their lives with their load of names, as if they were old Jews returning with an assortment of clothes. People use their children as registers to preserve the names of aunts and uncles, parents and grandparents, and so inscribe them with the names of the dead, as if tombstones were not enough.” and so he would run on for an hour, if any one would listen, and even if they did not; for he was a natural talker—talked nearly all the time when awake—no more if men listened to him, no less if they did not. Unlike the race of natural talkers, his conversation contained a great deal of good sense, and of shrewd observation. It was full of whims, too, and ludicrous exaggerations, particularly when any one opposed him. There was no excess and no absurdity which he would ot zealously defend, if some sober and literal man sought logically to corner him. He disputed axioms, refused to admit first principles, laughed at premises, and ran down conclusions, dogmatized and madly asserted, with the merriest and absurdest indifference to all consistency; for which there is no parallel, unless it be that of a very lively horse, in a very large pasture, with a very gouty man trying to catch him.

But this was superficial. At bottom Uncle Eb. was a stern moralist and loyal to the last degree in his conduct to honor and truth.

If you had a pet theory, or an assumptious argument, or a logical brat prigged up with pretentious authority, Uncle Eb. was the most dangerous of men to entrust it with. He was a sore trouble to theologians and a nuisance to theorists. But if you were dying, he was just the man to entrust your estate with. Punctual, exact, sharp, disinterested, but pragmatical, he neither would cheat nor allow cheating. There was no more vaporing, no more wild caracoles of the horse aforesaid, in open fields, but, like the horse in harness, he settled down to his work with edifying sobriety and regularity.

“Well, Reuben, you graduate this summer. What next? What are you going to do? You are pretty well stuffed with trash. It will take several years to forget what you ought not to have learned, and to get rid of the evil effects of foolish instruction. But that will come pretty much of itself. College learning is very much like snow, and the more a man has of it the less can the soil produce. It’s not till practical life melts it that the ground yields anything. Men get over it quicker in some kinds of business than in others. The college sticks longest on ministers and schoolmasters: next, to lawyers; not much to doctors; and none at all to merchants and gentlemen. You can’t afford to be a gentleman, and so you must choose among other callings.”

“Can’t a man, Uncle Eb., be a gentleman in any respectable calling?”

“Oh, dear, no. My gentleman must take all his time to it, spend his life at it, be jealous of everything else. He is a kind of perfect man, a sort of chronometer, for other men to keep time by. One is enough for a whole town. One is enough—two would be a superfluity, and a class of them simply a nuisance. A gentleman should have feeling—but should hide it. People of much sentiment are like fountains, whose overflow keeps a disagreeable puddle about them. He should have knowledge, but not like your educated men of our day whose knowledge sings and crows and cackles with every achievement. His knowledge should be like apples in autumn hanging silently on the bows [sic]—rich, ripe and still. A gentleman should be business-like by instinct. Affairs in his hands come to pass silently and without ado, as nature compasses her results—the vastest range and round of spring work making less noise than one store or shop. I tell you, Reuben, a gentleman is a rare specimen. He requires so much in the making that few are made.”

“But people consider you a gentleman, Uncle Eb.”

“Tut, tut—no ridicule, young man! I am gentlemanly. That’s another thing. I have worked too hard,—showing that I had not enough power. Power works easily. I have fretted too much. Fretting is a perpetual confession of weakness. It says, ‘I want to, and can’t.’ Fretting is like a little dog pawing and whining at a door because he can’t get in. No, no. A gentleman is like a fine piece of statuary, and must not be used, like a caryatide, to hold up porticos or cornices. He must be so fine that he accomplishes more while doing nothing than other men at the start, or he will grow rough in trying to mend matters, and so be like the best of common men, who only succeed in getting ready to live when it is time for them to die.”

“Is not Squire Perkins a gentleman?”

“Good and polite! But not my gentleman. His grain is not fine. His mother was a sailor’s widow, hearty and good-natured, but coarse in substance. All that Judge Perkins can claim is good nature, which is a mere matter of health. Good digestion—you are good-natured; bad digestion—you are morose! One of these days men will call things by their right names. Then they won’t say: he’s of a good disposition; but, he has a good stomach. Half the grace that’s going is nothing but food. Paul said the kingdom was not meat and drink. Very likely not hereafter. But it is here. Good steak and light bread is benevolence. Coffee is inspiration and humor. Good tea is tenderness and sprightliness—facts very humbling of our excellences. But they’re facts. Perkins is a good fellow. But if he was old, had the rheumatism, and was to have his money stolen, he would be as sour as a crab-apple.”

Young Wentworth was amused at his uncle’s crotchets, and loved to oppose him just enough to keep the old gentlem[a]n on the edge of extravagance, without being fairly driven over into absurdity.

“No, Reuben, gentlemen are fore-ordained from all eternity. They can’t be hurried up and put together on order, like a box of shoes for the southern market. A gentleman must see everybody without looking, and know everybody without inquiry, and say just the right thing to everybody without trying to; and, above all, he must make everybody in his presence do the best things they know how to do. That’s the touchstone. I’ve seen men come almost up to it. But then they would let people get angry; they would suffer them to say and do disagreeable things. That will never do. The gentleman is a natural king. He has the intuition of people’s nature, and can tough just the spot in them that is sweetest, and get out of them what they would never have wrought out of themselves. One or two gentlemen are enough for a town. They are steeples, which we put on churches, not on dwelling-houses.”

“Very well, uncle, I will give up being a gentleman. Such a brilliant exception to good and well-bred men I was not born to be. What next?”

“You should never make a clergyman of yourself. You are not bad, but then you’re not good. A man should be born to the pulpit. A musician is one whose brain naturally secretes musical ideas; a poet thinks in blossoms just as naturally as honeysuckles do; an inventor’s head is made to work out mechanical combinations. Men are like trees, each one must put forth the leaf that is created in him. Education is only like good culture—it changes the size but not the sort. The men that ought to preach should be ordained in birth. The laying on of hands can’t make an empty head full, nor a cold heart warm, nor a silent nature vocal. A minister is a genius in moral ideas, as a poet is in beautiful ideas, and an inventor in physical ideas.”

“But are not all men born with moral natures, and may not cultivation develop them?”

“So, many trees have sweet sap besides the maple, but the maple only is so sweet as to be profitable for sugar. Corn-stalks have saccharine matter as well as sugar-cane. But we plant one for grain and the other for sugar, just because it is so easy for one to bear grain, and so hard for it to make sugar; and so easy for the other to yield sugar, and so impossible to give grain. Find out whether a man’s head is fertile in moral ideas. It is not enough that he should know what is right when he sees it. He should see it before it exists. New good, new truth, better justice should suggest itself to him on every side. He is an inventor of better good than men now possess. Your head, Reuben, does not run clear; you think a matter is right if only it is beautiful, with a little touch of wildness in it. Besides, the office of a minister won’t agree with your natural carriage. You would run when you were expected to walk. You have no respect for rules. You would scare every body once a month with some naturalistic notions gathered in your rambling in the fields. Theology, like old Isaac, always puts its nose on its children to see if the smell of the fields is upon them. Isaac blessed Jacob because it was; theology blesses Jacob only when it is not! Natural religion is generally considered as poor stuff. Imported is thought more of than home-made—broadcloth proves better than linsey-woolsey. The church thinks that it will not do to make religion too easy; folks might take it up of themselves. You were not born for a pulpit. Few men are. Pulpits are queer places—candlesticks whose candles won’t burn—learned men, but can’t speak, like deep wells and a pump that won’t fetch water.”

“Ah, uncle, you don’t like ministers, I am afraid. All that I have ever known were capital fellows—manly and sincere. But, as you say, I don’t think I am good enough, and so I promise you upon my honor, that I won’t be a clergyman.”

In early life Uncle Eb. had been deeply wounded in a love affair, and saw his treasure borne off by a young minister. He had never married, and he never quite forgave the profession. But it is only just to say, that while he made cynical speeches about ministers in general, he had conceived the warmest attachment to many clergymen in particular.

“Perhaps you think I’d better be a lawyer?”

“There’s worse things than that. But you would never make your bread at that business. It’s a hot and drastic profession. You will see men chiefly on the selfish side. You will be always making a porridge of somebody’s dirt. Pretty good fellows, lawyers are; but I wonder at it.”

“I declare, uncle, I believe you mean to make a schoolmaster of me.”

“No, sir; a man should never be a schoolmaster. That’s a woman’s business. Be a professor or nothing! Even then it’s a poor business. Who ever heard of a college professor that was not poor? They dry up in pocket like springs after the wood is cut off from the hills. They are apt to get very dry in other ways, too. A man that teaches cannot afford to know too much. A teacher is like a needle. He should be small and sharp. If large, he cannot run easily through the garments to be made. The College President ought to be a great man—a sort of specimen,—something for the boys to remember as a pattern of a man.”

“Well, uncle, as I am not a born gentleman, and can’t make a good minister, am too good to be a lawyer, and must not be a schoolmaster; as I am too fat to be a professor, and not grand enough for a president,—I am afraid I shall have to go to sea for a living; for I am not fit to work, and should sell myself out of house and home, if I was a merchant.”

“There is just one thing left, and a business proper for you; you should be a doctor! You love nature. You love chemistry and botany. You are fond of all curious insearch and occult functions. A doctor, it is true, is everybody’s servant. But you will be left to think and reason, without any master. And the riding, especially in the country, will suit your desultory nature.”

“And, to sum it all up, uncle, you want me to be a doctor, because your father was one, and his father, and your brother, and for fear a link should be missing, you want me to study medicine. That you want it, is enough.”

Norwood, chapter 4

July 17, 2015

[A great example of Beecher lecturing through his characters. (There’s a lot of this.)]

STARTING IN LIFE.After his marriage, ’Biah Cathcart, (as he was familiarly called by his neighbors,) not without much thought and consultation, determined to buy him a farm. After many searchings, and much deliberation, he chose a place of sixty acres, two miles from the goodly town of Norwood. There were, besides, twenty acres of woodland, lying three miles away, mountain lots, as they were called. On the home farm there was an old-fashioned farm-house, of two stories.

But instead of one story additions, in the rear, such as are now built, for kitchen, shed, &c., the rear roof ran from the ridge-pole down nearly to the ground, covering the two stories and the single story with one long slant.

The former occupant had suffered the property to waste. Paint had long since ceased to cover the clapboards on the sides; the roof was patched and cumbered with moss, and the water gutters at the eaves had collected so much of dust and decayed leaves, as to form little patches of soil, out of which grew a fringe of mingled vegetation. Both flowers and weeds, whose seeds had been lodged there by birds, or uplifted by the winds, grew lovingly together, and cast their slender shadows down upon the cornice, like a pencil tracery of arabesques.

It was the day that Dr. Wentworth had been called to see Widow Nance, a mile beyond, that Cathcart took in hand the old house.

“You see, Doctor, that I’ve got a job here. Old Templeton’s liquor bills were so heavy that he couldn’t afford paint or putty.”

“Make a clean job of it, ’Biah. You’ll have to lay these chimney-tops over again; filling and pointing won’t do. I suppose you will shift your flower garden, too, from the roof to the ground.”

“Flower garden?”

“Yes, poor things,” said the Doctor, going to the back eaves and standing upon an old wash-bench, where he could look upon the low roof.

“I wish I had this old mossy roof, or one just like it. I am willing to ride a mile out of my way, any time, to see the moss in Peak’s ravine, and all along the wood on each side of it. How kind of it to creep over decaying things and cover their homeliness with such a cheerful garment! Did you ever think that in the animal kingdom there is no beauty in death. A crow, a dog or a wounded deer dies, and is soon consumed. They seem to have had their time when alive. But vegetation, with fewer privileges in life, has more comeliness after death. Nobody makes shrouds for trees, and so nature takes care of them and hides them under new life—making beauty do sexton’s work, and shroud death with the garments of life. I was over yesterday at the ravine, and found an old tree-trunk, half decayed, on and around which was a garden such as no gardener could make. It lay on the edge of the wood; the streams of the brook had kept its mosses, of which I counted many species, in admirable health and color. Ah, it was like a trunk of emerald! Down on the south side, where the leaves had kept them warm all winter, were blood-root blossoms, white as snow, shooting up in squads, like white troopers mustering for some tournament; and at the upturned roots was a tangle of balckberry vines, as fine in lines as any thing that Raphael ever imitated from the ancients, and a great deal more beautiful. Men’s eyes make finer pictures, when they know how to use them, than any body’s hands can.”

“And so, Doctor, I am to keep this half-acre of a roof, am I, just out of pity to this moss? And what’ll become of us when it rains, with this green old sieve letting through enough rain to dampen every room in the house? I see—you want our custom, Doctor! We should soon have moss growing over us, as it is over old Templeton—though, by-the-bye, he never suffered when on earth from too much water, I’m thinking! Hiram Beers says he wouldn’t touch it when he could get it, and now can’t get it when he wants it. Hiram is very hard on old Templeton. He says the old man was so hot, that flowers ought to start early where his grave is.”

“What a pity that thrift and sentiment can’t compromise matters a little better! It would make any gardener’s reputation if he could plant such a little moss-Eden as this. Well, if you choose to be healthy rather than beautiful, you must have your own way. I’ll be back in a couple of hours. Widow Nance, poor thing, is about spent! Save me some of the moss—that great patch yonder, with cherry-stones heaped along its upper edge.”

And with that he carried away his great blue eyes, and white face, wide at the top, but fine and clean cut, though large-featured to the very chin.

“As good sense at the bottom as ever man had,” said Cathcart, as the chaise rolled out from under the elm trees, in front of the yard, “and he needs it all too, or his queer notions would run away with him. Rachel says the Doctor’s face and presence are better than most doctors’ medicine; and they are reviving. I always feel after he’s gone as if there was more in every thing about me than I had any notion of before, though I can’t exactly tell what it is.”

It was about two o’clock when Dr. Wentworth returned, and, not seeing Cathcart, he walked under a ragged cherry-tree, and stood watching with a kind of sober smile the workmen, inspired with the subtle eagerness which the work of destroying is apt to infuse.

The shingles came down in showers. The light ones whirled and glimmered in the sunlight, and shied out hither and thither all over the yard. Those covered with moss came headlong and thumped the ground at his feet.

“Poor thing, do you know me?” raising a moss-loaded shingle thoughtfully, as if it were alive; and he laughed out as if he had been answered by some unexpected cry.

For a rakeful of shingles had sent a flock of hens in sudden scare toward the barn-yard, while the great golden-speckled rooster drew up with magisterial dignity and called out, “Cut-tark-cut, cut, cut?” Receiving no answer, with a low-crooning noise in his throat, he cocked his eye, first at the doctor, then at the house, as much as to say, “Do you know what’s going on here?” And then, letting down his right foot which had been drawn up, in suspense, he pompously moved off to lecture his hens, that were already picking and scratching in the straw, upon the mystery of life.

The doctor drew the now cast-away gutter, and stooping, plucked two or three of the weeds, and putting them under his hat-band, laid down his hat on the well-stone, while he unrolled the ricketty old windlass and sent down the remnants of a bucket for water. It was an old-fashioned well, of mysterious depth. If you looked down its narrow and dark throat, you saw nothing. If you still looked, and dropped a pebble down, a faint light was reflected from the crinkling water far below. For four or five feet at the top, the stones were lined with moss. Up, after long winding, came the bucket, spurting out its contents on every side, and filling the well with a musical splashing sound, reserving hardly enough, at last, to serve for a good drink. “Well, ’Biah, I understand the old proverb—truth is at the bottom of the well. If I was to go down after the water, very likely there is foul air enough down there to put me out like a candle; and if I send a bucket down the greatest part leaks out before I can reach it. Much work and little truth do men get in the wells they dig now-a-days.”

“But come in and see the house.”

“I have seen it too often. Wait till you have lived awhile here and changed every association. I shall see the terrible sight that I witnessed when old Templeton had delirium tremens. He yelled and moaned by turns, saw men and devils after him, and died more horribly than any other creature that I ever saw, and I’ve seen many. Scour your walls, ’Biah.”

Bad as the house was, the grounds were in even worse condition. The barns were utterly dilapidated; the fences were poor; the soil had been fleeced, and scarcely anything that was bad in husbandry had been left untried upon this much-enduring farm.

But this universal deterioration had so depreciated the market value of the place, that Cathcart was enabled to buy it—making a payment of a thousand dollars, and borrowing the rest, with his own time to pay it off. If he had been industrious and frugal before, he was far more so now. What he lacked in capital he must make up for in enterprise.

For a year or two the struggle was close. His wife was his equal in industry and frugality. Her patience was never even ruffled. At four in summer and at five in winter, the light blazed on the hearth, and there were sounds in the barn. After the cattle were foddered, and until daylight, he worked at “closing” boots and shoes, earning thus a small addition to his means. At dark the same labor was resumed. This rigid, methodical industry was cheerfully pursued without intermission for years, and, at length, began to produce its results. One by one each field had been deepened; for Cathcart said: “No farmer owns any deeper than he can plow.”

Little by little the near lots were cleared of stone, which reappeared in stone walls, built with a breadth and accuracy fit for a castle wall, and which at length were carried around the whole farm. The low-lying lots, filled with muck, were drained and reduced to meadows; and acres, which before had been impassable to cattle, except in the driest summer weather, or, when frozen, became solid, and the most productive of all the farm. The number of division fences was greatly reduced, Cathcart believing that far more ground was wasted by fences than any good farmer could afford. The land actually occupied by the fence, the waste each side of it by brambles or weeds, the time consumed in clearing these useless occupants away, if the farmer was neat, Cathcart argued, constituted, in ten years, a heavy tax on industry.

In such a climate, in such a soil, and in such a community, a farm will not pay, unless it be made to move with the accuracy of a machine, and with an economy which reaches to the most minute elements.

Availing himself of Dr. Wentworth’s library, he had read the best works on husbandry, and extracted from them enough to guide his practice to a result far beyond that which was common in the neighborhood. Whoever had, at first, criticized the new-fangled farming, no longer doubted its success, when, at length, the farm was clear of debt, and returning no mean revenue.

Here years rolled on, and Cathcart grew to prosperity and into universal respect. Sons and daughters were born to him; with only two of whom, however, shall we have to do—the youngest two—Barton and Alice, who will in due time take their places in our history.

Norwood, chapter 2

July 10, 2015

[Well, oops:  I left out chapter 2!]

ABIAH CATHCART.Abiah Cathcart was an honorable specimen of a New-England farmer. Any one accustomed to judge of men would see at a glance that he did not belong to that class of farmer-drudges, who tease Nature for a living, and make up for lack of skill and knowledge of their business by an insatiable and tormenting industry. He thought out his work, and then worked out his thoughts. He was a man of great bodily strength; of calmness and patience, joined to an inflexible will. His face accurately recorded his nature. It was large-framed, not mobile, but clear and open in expression; it exhibited more of goodness and wisdom, than of felling or imagination. Had he been clothed in the habiliments and seated on the bench of a court, every one would have said, “He looks every inch a judge.”

He received from his parents a healthy body, a sound judgment, habits of industry, a common-school education, and besides, nothing;—save their good name and wholesome example. In all his boyhood, and till he was eighteen years old, he had probably never altogether had five dollars of “spending money” from his father. He used to tell his own boys, afterward, with some quiet pride, that he had never spent for mere pleasure a single dollar which he had not himself earned by hard work. He believed it to be almost immoral to spend property which had not been seasoned by one’s own toil or skill. He used to say that pleasure was wholesome and indispensable when one had earned a right to it, but that amusement got for nothing relaxed a man and demoralized him.

When he was eighteen years old, Cathcart bought his time of his father for two hundred dollars. These were considered very liberal terms in those days. A son’s services for three years before his majority were no small part of the working capital of a small farm.

Being master of his time, he considered and made an inventory of his goods and properties. First, there was a good stout body, six feet high and well developed; a face and head that an honest man need not be ashamed to carry through the world. Next, he had a suit of new woollen clothes, and one old suit; six pairs of woollen stockings, which his mother’s own hands had knit from wool which grew, under his own eye, on his father’s flock; a pair of new thick boots for Sundays, an every-day pair, an axe, a brave heart—honest and steadfast; this was all that he carried out of his father’s house. No! He carried likewise his father’s blessing—unspoken, but not the less real; and his mother’s prayers, silent and gentle, but which could never miss the road to the throne of all bounty!

Life was before him. He did not waver an hour as to his plans. He was a farmer’s son, he knew how to work, and by work he meant to thrive. His vision of success was not extravagant—a homestead and a family; and property to support and educate his children until they should be old enough to take care of themselves. This was the measure of his dream.

This ought not to seem difficult. and it would not be, in new regions where land may be had for a nominal price, and where the climate prolongs the summer, while it straitens the winter within narrow bounds. But in old New England, in the neighborhood of large towns, where land is expensive, summers short, winters long, and the soil not indulgent, yielding its moderate crops to coercion rather than to coaxing, it is not easy for a man who has only his own hands for a capital to buy a farm, stock it, earn upon it the means of paying for it, and at the same time to support a growing family.

This did Abiah Cathcart by intelligent industry and sturdy perseverance. Not a thing did he ever get by craft. And who shall blame his honest pride, afterward, when he was wealthy, that he had created his own fortune? Wealth created without spot or blemish is an honest man’s peerage; and to be proud of it is his right. It is not the empty pride of money, but pride of skill, of patience, of labor, of perseverance, and of honor, which wrought and secured the wealth!

When he left his father’s house he hired out at teaming, twelve dollars a month and found. Cathcart had this sign of a sound nature—that he loved a horse. His employer gave him some discretion in buying and selling; and soon, by purchase and exchange, Cathcart had made up the best team in the neighborhood. Nothing went over the road that everybody stared at more than his horses. It pleased him to see men pull up, look over the horses, and exclaim:

“That’s a team for you! I say, mister, will you sell those horses?”

He was pleased almost every day. His horses were moderately large but compact, and the very models of strength. Look at them! The fine ear, the clean and finished look of their heads, and, above all, the large, lively eyes that easily change expression, and you will see that they have nerve as well as muscle. If you doubt, you should see them when a heavy load threatens to stall them; the rousing, the excitement, the prodigious swell of muscles, and, when the load is safely brought up or through, the nervous flash of the eye, and the restless champ upon the bit! He loved their company—loved to feed them—loved to take his book (he was ever and always a reader) at noon, after his frugal meal was done, and sit by his team, while the horses ground their oats, or cracked and craunched their Indian corn. Do you wonder, reader, at such pleasure? Then you know little of some scenes of life. Ask an old Western wagoner, what have been the happiest hours of his life—and he will tell you—

“Well, stranger, I’ve seen some pretty jolly times. but, for solid comfort, I think I’ve enjoyed the most when I was laying in my wagon near a creek, and the fire was flickering among the trees, and I was jest goin’ to sleep—I think I never heard anything quite so pleasant as my horses, at both ends of the wagon, chankin corn!”

His employer died. It being autumn, Cathcart engaged to clear off a piece of mountain wood, and haul it to town, at so much a cord. Doing well at this, the next fall he took a contract for making charcoal, and became almost a hermit in the woods—chopping, piling, and tending the heap; and, until he had completed the job, living in a shanty of his own construction.

In summer, he worked upon the farm, getting fair wages; and thus, in five years, he found himself rich—for he had earned a thousand dollars and won a royal woman’s heart.

Norwood, chapter 3

July 2, 2015

Finally, something happens!



Rachel Liscomb, daughter of Deacon Liscomb—tall, slender, straight, with black hair and dark eyes, a brunette—looked at him one day as they walked home from meeting, with a look that he never got over. She was one of the few without gifts of speech, whose bearing and looks are a full equivalent for speech. A farmer’s daughter—she was well-practised in work. But, a New-England woman, she was of a deep moral nature and reflectively intelligent. One who looked for attractive manners would pass her by unseen. Like a geode, the exterior was homely, the crystals were dark-chambered within.

Upon her rested the thoughts of Abiah Cathcart. She went but little from home, except on Sunday to church, and to the singing-school. But twice had Cathcart visited her father’s house, and yet for a year, when they met, both hid or strove to hide a sensibility of which neither was ashamed, but which each was ashamed to feel without some sign that the other felt it too. Our finer feelings are like the evening primrose, all the sunlight but shuts them closer. And yet, when evening comes and dews are falling, if you will watch, you shall see the twilight with gentle influence unroll them one by one, with visible motion, each blossom throwing forth, as it opens, its offering of delicate odor.

They were walking silently and gravely home one Sunday afternoon, under the tall elms that lined the street for half a mile. Neither had spoken. There had been some little parish quarrel, and on that afternoon the text was, “A new commandment I write unto you, that ye love one another.” But, after the sermon was done, the text was the best part of it. Some one said that Parson marsh’s sermons were like the meeting house—the steeple was the only thing that folks could see after they got home.

They walked slowly, without a word. Once or twice ’Biah essayed to speak, but was still silent. He plucked a flower from between the pickets of the fence, and unconsciously pulled it to pieces, as, with troubled face, he glanced at Rachel, and then, as fearing she would catch his eye, he looked at the trees, at the clouds, at the grass, at everything, and saw nothing—nothing but Rachel. The most solemn hour of human experience is not that of death, but of Life—when the heart is born again, and from a natural heart becomes a heart of Love! What wonder that it is a silent hour and perplexed?

Is the soul confused? Why not, when the divine spirit, rolling clear across the aerial ocean, breaks upon the heart’s shore with all the mystery of heaven? Is it strange that uncertain lights dim the eye, if above the head of him that truly loves hover clouds of saintly spirits? Why should not the tongue stammer and refuse its accustomed offices, when all the world—skies, trees, plains, hills, atmosphere, and the solid earth—spring forth in new colors, with strange meanings, and seem to chant for the soul the glory of that mystic Law with which God has bound to himself his infinite realm—the law of Love! Then, for the first time, when one so loves that love is sacrifice, death to self, resurrection, and glory, is man brought into harmony with the whole universe; and like him who beheld the seventh heaven, hears things unlawful to be uttered!

The great elm trees sighed as the fitful breeze swept their tops. The soft shadows flitted back and forth beneath the walker’s feet, fell upon them in light and dark, ran over the ground, quivered, and shook, until sober Cathcart thought that his heart was throwing its shifting network of hope and fear along the ground before him!

How strangely his voice sounded to him as, at length, all his emotions could only say, “Rachel—how did you like the sermon?”

Quietly she answered—

“I liked the text.”

“ ‘A new commandment I write unto you, tht ye love one another.’ Rachel, will you help me keep it?”

At first she looked down and lost a little color; then, raising her face, she turned upon him her large eyes, with a look both clear and tender. It was as if some painful restraint had given way, and her eyes blossomed into full beauty.

Not another word was spoken. They walked home hand in hand. He neither smiled nor exulted. He saw neither the trees, nor the long level rays of sunlight that were slanting across the fields. His soul was overshadowed with a cloud as if God were drawing near. He had never felt so solemn. This woman’s life had been entrusted to him!

Long years—the whole length of life—the eternal years beyond, seemed in an indistinct way to rise up in his imagination. All that he could say, as he left her at the door, was:

“Rachel, this is forever—forever.”

She again said nothing, but turned to him with a clear and open face, in which joy and trust wrought beauty. It seemed to him as if a light fell upon him from her eyes. There was a look that descended and covered him as with an atmosphere; and all the way home he was as one walking in a luminous cloud. he had never felt such personal dignity as now. He that wins such love is crowned, and may call himself king. He did not feel the earth under his feet. As he drew near his lodgings, the sun went down. The children began to pour forth, no longer restrained. Abiah turned to his evening cores. No animal that night but had reason to bless him. The children found him unusually good and tender. And Aunt Keziah said to her sister:

“Abiah’s been goin’ to meetin’ very regular for some weeks, and I shouldn’t wonder, by the way he looks, as if he had got a hope. I trust he ain’t deceivin’ himself.”

He had a hope, and he was not deceived; for in a few months, at the close of the service one Sunday morning, the minister read from the pulpit: “Marriage is intended between Abiah Cathcart and Rachel Liscomb, both of this town, and this is the first publishing of the banns.” Which notice was duly repeated for two successive Sunday mornings. Then old Uncle Bascom, the town clerk, issued the marriage certificate. Uncle Bascom had been town clerk, the boys used to think, ever since there was a town; so long that that town, without Giles Bascom as clerk, wouldn’t be recognized. It was one of the marks, like the meeting-house, the brick store, and Gallup’s tavern, by which people knew that this was the town of Dennis.

One day there appeared in the county paper two lines: “Married:—On ——, at the house of the bride’s father, Abiah Cathcart and Rachel Liscomb.”

What a slender body is that for the world of meaning contained in it!

From the hour of his engagement, Cathcart was a different man. Every faculty was quickened, but most, his moral nature. He marvelled with himself what it should mean. All his life had he honored industry and integrity in thought and example. But all at once these qualities rose before him in a light of beauty which he had never before imagined. Hundreds of sermons had he heard on virtue and piety. But now, without any apparent reason, manliness seemed the only thing worth living for, and truth and purity seemed to him so noble that he strangely hungered for them. Taught from his childhood to reverence God, he felt suddenly opened in his soul a gate of thanksgiving, and through it came also a multitude of thoughts of worship and praise. The world was recreated before his eyes. Nothing before was ever beautiful, if judged by his present sensibility. These experiences did not clothe themselves in language, nor work out in ideas and images for he was of too practical a nature. But they filled him with tenderness and manliness.

As the day of his marriage drew near, he felt a thousand reluctances and scruples. He feared that Rachel might not be happy with him—that it was not worthy in him to take her from the plain comforts of her father’s house to the toil and limitation of his struggling lot—that she might be deceived in him, and not always find reason for such love as she now manifested. He looked upon her with reverence, and far greater than before he was admitted to such intimate relations. Her every word was simple, every thought was truth, every feeling pure; and word, thought and feeling moved gently upon him in an atmosphere of love. He worshipped God with reverence. He worshipped Rachel with love; he came to her as one comes to an altar or a shrine. he left her as one who has seen a vision of angels.

Outwardly, and in consonance with the customs of the neighborhood, he was gay and jovial at the wedding; but down deep in his soul he was as solemn, before Rachel, as if God spoke and he listened.

How wondrous are the early days of wedlock, in young and noble souls! How strange are the ways of two pure souls, wholly finding each other out; between whom for days and months is going on that silent and unconscious intersphering of thought, feeling, taste, and will, by which two natures are clasping and twining and growing into each other!

Happy are they who know, and well Cathcart knew, how to bring such wisdom with loving, that selfishness, a poisonous weed, shall die out; and love clothed with reverence shall grow and thrive with power and beauty, all one’s life! For, if there be one root in which resides the secret of producing immortal flowers, it is Love.

Norwood, chapter 1

June 25, 2015






Since the introduction of railways, thousands of curious travellers
every summer have thronged New England, have seen its
manufacturing villages, and admired its general thrift. But those
who know its scenery only by the river-valleys, know little of it;
and those who have seen its people only in cities, are little
acquainted with New-England character

Men speak of Yankee character, as if there was but one type
which pervaded New England. It is true, that there are some few
marks which New-England men have in common. But the differences
are greater than the likenesses. Nowhere else in the nation
are men so differentiated. The loose structure of Southern society
gave to its citizens an appearance of greater personal freedom; and
in the Great Western States various causes have produced far more
freedom of manners, and more frankness and spontaneous geniality.
Yet it will be found that neither in the South, nor in the West, is
there so large a proportion of the population which is original,
contrasted, and individualized in taste, manners and opinions, as in
New England. If we should employ a scientific method, and speak
of a Western genus, and a Southern genus, and a Middle State
genus, then it will be found, that none, nor all, are so rich in species,
as the genus New England.

The scenery of New England is picturesque rather than grand.
Scarcely any other excursion could be planned which would so
well fill a summer vacation, as one which, winding leisurely up
through the western portions of Connecticut, of Massachusetts, and
of Vermont, reached a climax at St. Albans, on the eastern shore
of Lake Champlain; a place in the midst of greater variety of
scenic beauty than any other that I remember in America. On the
east rise the successive masses of the White Mountains, seemingly
close at hand; on the west is Lake Champlain, swarming with
green islands, and beyond its waters, westward, rise the Adirondacs,
not in chains or single peaks, but in vast broods, a prmiscuous
multitude of forest-clothed mountains. On the north is scooped
out in mighty lines the valley of the St. Lawrence; and, in clear
days, the eye may spy the faint glimmer of Montreal.

Such a ride from New Haven to St. Albans, from Long Island
Sound to Lake Champlain, can scarcely be matched for the charms
of its scenery, the number and beauty of its villages, for the general
intelligence and culture of its people, for the universal thrift
following universal industry, and for crisp originalities of character.

The maritime population of New England is very unlike all the
rest. the foreign element has greatly modified society. Commerce
and manufacturing have worn away many of the primitive
New England traits; and the wealth and refinement of the cities
have to some extent overlaid the peculiar New England element
by a cosmopolitan gilding. The remote neighborhoods and hill-towns
yet retain the manners, morals, institutions, customs and
religion of the fathers. The interior villages of New England are
her brood-combs.

Our simple story of domestic life will take us to a point
intermediate between the rugged simplicity of mountain towns and the
easier life of the cities.

A traveller going north from Springfield, in Massachusetts, soon
perceives before him an abrupt barrier, running east and west,
which, if compared with the country on either side, might be called
mountainous. the two westernmost summits are Mount Tom and
Mount Holyoke. By a narrow passage between them comes
through the Connecticut River. Passing between these hill-mountains,
we enter a great valley or basin, some twelve miles
wide and thirty long, which one might easily imagine to have been
once a lake; the Pelham hills on the east, sugar-loaf on the north,
and the Holyoke range on the south, forming barriers on three
sides, while its waters on the west were stayed by the slopes of
those hills which, in the middle of western Massachusetts, are all
that remain of the famous Green Mountains.

Look with my eyes, good reader, upon the town of Norwood,
that, refusing to go down upon the fat bottom-lands of the
Connecticut, daintily perches itself upon the irregular slopes west, and
looks over upon that transcendent valley from under its beautiful
shade trees, and you will say that no fairer village glistens in the
sunlight, or nestles under arching elms! It is a wonder that
Norwood was ever allowed to venture so near to the low grounds of
the Connecticut; for it was early settled, nor far from thirty years
after the Pilgrims’ landing. How the temptation to build upon
the top of the highest hill was resisted, we know not.

Did the New England settler alight upon hill-tops, like a
sentinel, or a hawk upon the topmost bough, to spy danger at its first
appearing? Or had he some unconscious sense of the poetic beauty
of the scriptural city set upon a hill—some Jerusalem, lifted up,
and seen from afar, in all its beauty? Or was he willing to face
the sturdy winds of New-England hill-tops, rather than to take the
risk of malaria in the softer air of her valleys? Whatever the
reason, the chosen spot in early days seems to have been a high
and broad-backed hill, where the summer came last, and departed
earliest; where, while it lingered, it was purest and sweetest;
where winter was most austere, and its winds roared among the
trees, and shook the framed houses with such awful grandeur, that
children needed nothing more to awaken in their imagination the
great Coming Judgment, and the final consuming storms, when the
earth should be shaken and should pass away!

Norwood, a town of five thousand inhabitants, like hundreds
of other New England towns, had in a general and indistinct way
an upper, middle and lower class. A wholesome jealousy of their
rights, and a suspicion among the poor that wealth and strength
always breed danger to the weak, made the upper class—who were
ranked so by their wealth, by their superior culture, and by the
antiquity of their families in town—politically weaker than any

The middle class comprised the great body of the people,
all dependent upon their skill and activity for a living, and all
striving to amass property enough to leave their families at their
death in independent circumstances.

The lower class of a New England village is chiefly composed
of the hangers-on—those who are ignorant and imbecile, and
especially those who, for want of moral health, have sunk, like
sediment, to the bottom. Perhaps nowhere in the world can be found
more unlovely wickedness—a malignant, bitter, tenacious hatred
of good—than in New England. The good are very good, and the
bad are very bad. The high moral tone of public sentiment, in
many New-England towns, and its penetrating and almost
inquisitorial character, either powerfully determines men to do good, or
chafes and embitters them. This is especially true when, in certain
cases, good men are so thoroughly intent upon public morality that
the private individual has scarcely any choice left. Under such a
pressure some men act in open wickedness out of spite, and some
secretly; and the bottom of society wages clandestine war with
the top.

But, fortunately for Norwood, the public sentiment, though
strong and high in moral tone, had been by peculiar influences so
tempered with kindness, that, far less than in surrounding places,
was there a class of fierce castaways at the bottom.

The main street of Norwood was irregular, steadily seeking
higher ground to its extreme western limit. It would have had
no claims to beauty had it not been rich in the peculiar glory of
New England—its Elm-trees! No town can fail of beauty, though
its walks were gutters, and its houses hovels, if venerable trees
make magnificent colonnades along its streets. Of all trees, no
other unites, in the same degree, majesty and beauty, grace and
grandeur, as in the American Elm! Known from north to south,
through a range of twelve hundred miles, and from the Atlantic
to the head waters of the rivers which flow into the western side
of the Mississippi, yet, in New England, the elm is found in its
greatest size and beauty, fully justifying the Michaux’s commendation
of it to European cultivators, as “the most magnificent vegetable
of the Temperate Zone.” Though a lover of moisture and richness,
the elm does not flourish so well upon pure vegetable soils as
on intervale lands, stronger in mineral ingredients than river

Single spots, finer than any in New England, there may be in
other lands; but such a series of villages over such a breadth of
country, amidst so much beauty of scenery, enriched, though
with charming and inexpensive simplicity, with so much beauty of
garden, yard, and dwelling, cannot elsewhere be found upon the
globe. No man has seen America, who has not become familiar
with the villages of New England and the farms of the Northwestern
States. Yet every one will confess that a large part of
this scenic beauty of New England is contributed by trees,—and
particularly by the elm. The Elms of New England! They are as
much a part of her beauty as the columns of the Parthenon were
the glory of its architecture.

Their towering trunks, whose massiveness well symbolizes
Puritan inflexibility; their over-arching tops, facile, wind-borne
and elastic, hint the endless plasticity and adaptableness of this
people;—and both united, form a type of all true manhood, broad
at the root, firm in the trunk, and yielding at the top, yet returning
again, after every impulse, into position and symmetry. What
if they were sheered away from village and farm house? Who
would know the land? Farm-houses that now stop the tourist
and the artist, would stand forth bare and homely; and villages
that coquette with beauty through green leaves, would shine
white and ghastly as sepulchres. Let any one imagine Conway or
Lancaster without elms! Or Hadley, Hatfield, Northampton, or
Springfield! New Haven without elms would be like Jupiter
without a beard, or a lion shaved of his mane!

And so, reader, as one loves to approach a mansion through an
avenue of elms, we have led you through a short discourse of
trees, to our homely story.

Norwood, Preface

June 19, 2015

I’m working on a transcription of Henry Ward Beecher’s (pretty bad) 1867 novel, Norwood.  It’s long.  Really, really long.  So I’ll be posting chapters here—appropriate, because it originally appeared serialized in the New York Ledger, famous for employing Fanny Fern to write for $100 per column.

It’s a regional novel, set in New England.  We have colorful New England characters, young lovers, the Civil War, and Abraham Lincoln.  And a lot of conversation, as characters make speeches to each other on spiritual and intellectual matters and greenhouses and whatever else comes to mind.  (And, it’s really, really long:  I’m on chapter 31, and we’re just coming up on the halfway mark.)


Before the Civil War, I had for several years been a regular contributor to the NEW YORK LEDGER. During that great conflict I had almost entirely ceased writing for it. But when the war was closed, I was not unwilling to seek rest or relaxation from the exhausting excitement of public affairs, by turning my mind into entirely new channels of thought and interest.

In this mood I received Mr. Bonner’s proposal to write a story for the LEDGER. Had it been a request to carve a statue or build a man-of-war, the task would hardly have seemed less likely of accomplishment. A very moderate reader, even, of fictions, I had never studied the mystery of their construction. Plot and counterplot, the due proportion of parts, the whole machinery of a novel, seemed hopelessly outside of my studies. But after-considerations came to my relief. I reflected that any real human experience was intrinsically interesting; that the life of a humble family for a single day, even if not told as skilfully as Wordsworth sung the humble aspects of the natural world, or as minutely faithful as Crabbe depicted English village-life, could hardly fail to win some interest. The habit of looking upon men as the children of God, and heirs of immortality, can hardly fail to clothe the simplest and most common elements of daily life with importance, and even with dignity. Nothing is trivial in the education of the King’s Son!

By interesting my readers, if I could, in the ordinary experiences of daily life among the common people, not so much by dramatic skill as by a subtle sympathy with Nature, and by a certain largeness of moral feeling, I hoped to inspire a pleasure which, if it did not rise very high, might, on that account, perhaps, continue the longer. I had rather know that one returned again and again to parts of this most leisurely narrative, than that he devoured it all in a single passionate hour, and then turned away from it sated and forgetful.

I can only wish that all who use the pen might fall into hands as kind, as considerate, and as forbearing, as I have. Norwood was mostly written in Peekskill. there is not a single unpleasant memory connected with it. It was a summer-child, brought up among flowers and trees.

When the last sheet of the manuscript of Norwood was ready for the press, I sent the following letter with it:

“MY DEAR MR. BONNER:—You have herewith the last line of Norwood. I began it reluctantly, as one who treads an unexplored path. But as I went on, I took more kindly to my work, and now that it is ended I shall quite miss my weekly task.

“My dear old father, after his day of labor had closed, used to fancy that in some way he was so connected with me that he was still at work; and on one occasion, after a Sabbath-morning service, some one in a congratulatory way said to the venerable and meek old patriarch:

“ ‘Well, Doctor, how did you like your son’s sermon?’

“ ‘It was good—good as I could do myself.’ And then, with an emphatic pointing of his forefinger, he added, ‘If it hadn’t been for me, you’d never have had him!’

“If any body likes Norwood, my dear and venerable Mr. Bonner, you can poke him with your finger and say, ‘If it hadn’t been for me, you would never have had it.’ ”

No one can imagine how true is the last paragraph of the letter above. To all the other pleasant associations or Norwood, Mr. Bonner has, by his more than fraternal kindness, added the highest and most enduring charm of a generous friendship.